A number of short-term measures in the coming weeks will be introduced as funding is awaited for a major upgrade of the busy Mountmellick Road in Portlaoise.
Laois County Council Director of Services Simon Walton and engineer Wes Wilkinson outlined the plan to councillors at the recent Portlaoise Municipal District.
The short-term plan includes new roundabouts at junctions with the Ballyfin Road, Greenmill Lane and Harpurs Lane, together with better pedestrian access and zebra crossings.
The three roundabouts would reassign priority to the side roads, which would discourage people from using the N80, which as Cllr Willie Aird pointed out is a busy national road that has traffic coming from Rosslare to the west of Ireland.
The plan was completed at the end of March but was only presented to councillors last week due to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Simon Walton explained that the design report set out the clear need for investment by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) while Wes Wilkinson added that, in the long term, Portlaoise would need an eastern relief road and upgrading of the Ridge Road to improve traffic flow.
The county council will submit an application for funding for the project to TII.
“It is the one road that is neglected in Portlaoise,” said Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald (Fianna Fáil), who welcomed the report but also added that the council should contact Dunnes Stores as the roundabout at Greenmill Lane would benefit their store on the Mountmellick Road.
“It’s by far the worst road now for walking, cycling and driving. It has been a problem for 20 years and we need to push for funding as soon as we can get it. We need serious funding for the N80.”
Cllr Aird said that similar “fried egg flat roundabouts” should be installed at the junctions in the meantime.
“We have a fried egg down at the church and people were giving out about it first but it is working. We could put in fried eggs for the moment on the Mountmellick Road, until we get funding for the big project.
“There are hundreds of people out walking now and it is lovely to see, but we need pedestrian crossings on the Mountmellick Road to make it safe.”
Sinn Fein Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley also warmly welcomed the report, recalling many young people have lost their lives on the Mountmellick Road over the years. Having grown up in O’Moore Place, she has been a regular on the road all her life and says that the improvements are needed more than ever now as the area has developed even further.
“I drive down the Ballyfin Road every morning and it is impossible to turn right onto the Mountmellick Road, as the view is very bad.
“Dunnes Stores is the crash point and residents there have been lobbying for years. We need to ensure that the roundabout outside Dunnes Stores is included when the plan is approved.”
She also called for cycle lanes on the Ballyfin Road, with Simon Walton responding to say that cycling facilities will be installed this summer under the urban enhancement programme.
Cllr Noel Tuohy felt the plan would go a long way to resolve problems on “the most neglected road” in town.
Cllr Thomasina Connell said that, while the plan was good, it was aspirational without funding and short-term measures were needed in the meantime, particularly as resources were likely to be more limited after Covid-19.